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The Solution on our Dinner Plates

What we can do about food and forests :: Changes from the ground up

Read this article in Spanish. Lea este artículo en español

 

Total global emissions are the equivalent of 31.6 gigatonnes of CO2 annually.
The world’s agricultural meat industry contributes 5.7 gigatonnes of that, and 6.3 gigatonnes comes from forest destruction.
Eighteen percent of the climate change problem is associated with raising, feeding, and transporting meat. Cutting back on meat consumption is a way to immediately reduce climate impact. Picture of Cow. Photo by Dagmar Nelson, milkaway.smugmug.com
Eighteen percent of the climate change problem is associated with raising, feeding, and transporting meat. Cutting back on meat consumption is a way to immediately reduce climate impact. Photo by Dagmar Nelson, milkaway.smugmug.com

The farm industries that put beef, pork, and dairy on our dinner tables account for 18 percent of global greenhouse emissions—a larger share than all the world’s transportation.

Animal agriculture unleashes some of the most baneful greenhouse gases—methane from cows’ stomachs (25 times stronger than CO2) and nitrous oxide from animal manure and the use of nitrogen fertilizer (298 times more potent than CO2). And too often, both cows and animal feed are raised on slashed and burned rainforest land, releasing more CO2.

The solution lies on our dinner plates. We need to eat less meat and dairy, turning instead to the tastes, pleasures, and health benefits of vegetarian food. If locally grown and organic, so much the better, since organic farming stores carbon in the soil, and eating locally grown reduces the carbon emissions from shipping. Research shows that organic farming can produce as much food as industrialized farming in the developed world and increase yields two to three-fold in developing countries (because many of their existing farming methods are less productive to begin with).

The destruction of the world’s tropical rainforests releases 17 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. We must go out of our way to protect the forests in the Amazon, Congo, and Indonesia by buying threatened forests, placing them in trust for indigenous inhabitants, and paying for policing against illegal loggers.

Gaviotas, a social experiment in the barren savannah lands of eastern Colombia, provides one inspiring model. The visionary Gavioteros have created a thriving carbon-neutral community complete with hospital, solar water treatment plant, and wind turbines. By planting trees, they have begun changing local rainfall cycles and restoring ancient rainforest—all in what was an almost uninhabitable landscape, proving that anything is possible.

Another miracle goes by the name terra preta—rich, black charcoal soil that stores huge quantities of carbon while making the land more fertile.

As we enter the post-carbon world, we must learn how to reharmonize farming and forestry with nature’s carbon cycles.


Guy Dauncey wrote this article as part of Stop Global Warming Cold, the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Guy is a speaker, organizer, consultant, and author with Patrick Mazza of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change, New Society Publishers.

Interested? Read about journalist Alan Weisman’s journey to remote Gaviotas.

Food and Forests: more resources.

Photo of Guy Dauncey
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